Film reviews: Dark side of the room is captivating
Reviewed: August: Osage County, Grudge match, Teenage, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
August: Osage County
SO MUCH for home being where the heart is. In director John Wells' adaptation of August: Osage County, Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Award-winning play of the same name, it's much more a case of home being where the heartbreak is. That powerhouse of American theatre Eugene O'Neill arguably cornered the market in family tragedy on an epic scale but on the evidence of this stirring piece Letts has legitimate claims on being considered a worthy successor.
Picture O'Neill's masterwork Long Day's Journey into Night relocated to an evocative American Midwest setting and you're well on the way to knowing what to expect from this powerful and poignant work. Pill-popping matriarchs? "World-class alcoholic" patriarchs? Psychologically damaged siblings. An arena full of Dr Phils would struggle to get a handle on the dysfunction that drives the family at the heart of proceedings here.
The action begins with the mystery disappearance of the elderly Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd), an award-winning poet, from his family home. Husband to the emotionally fragile Violet (Meryl Streep) and the father of three daughters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson), Weston's departure prompts an impromptu family gathering as relations and in-laws converge from far and wide.
The subject matter may be less than uplifting, but spectacular performances from the ensemble cast combine with dazzling dialogue to ensure the overall experience is consistently captivating.
LIFE in the modern digital age can leave little time for the brain to fully power down. Cerebral January cinema offerings, log-jammed at the box office ahead of awards season, do not help.
To the rescue comes Grudge Match, a film nearly as oafish on paper as in reality: Rocky vs Raging Bull, Stallone vs De Niro, old-timer vs has-been. In all but name, this is a mash-up of the iconic boxing classics, with the two leads dusted off, given a booster and paid cash to belly flop into the YouTube age.
A cynic could tear Grudge Match to shreds without breaking a sweat, but here's the rub; it goes so far into self-parody and silliness that something weirdly solid and dependable emerges the other side. Bear with me.
Stallone and De Niro are retired rival boxers Henry 'Razor' Sharp and Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen. They don't like each other because back in the '80s The Kid slept with Razor's lady (Kim Basinger) and Razor refused to give The Kid a re-match to settle the record.
Now, Razor has (of course) reverted to a blue-collar factory job while The Kid is yucking it up in his bar, entertaining guests on the mic and smooching young ones (sound familiar?).
A re-match is finally agreed for various noble reasons and fun is had in the gym watching the Hollywood waxworks gurn and groan ahead of the big comeback. There's some tosh about life lessons and a long-lost son but ignore this. Instead, have fun with Alan Arkin's potty-mouthed trainer as he deflates egos from his wheelchair, and ponder the total cost of the cosmetic surgery on show. Don't think too hard and Grudge Match is tolerable.
IF DONE well, "scrapbook documentaries" in the vein of Reeling In The Years can have the effect of making younger viewers nostalgic for an era when they weren't yet alive. This is very much the effect of Matt Wolf's energetic and axon-firing jog through the "invention of the teenager" in 20th Century Western society.
Although more known today for hormonal chips on the shoulder and poor hygiene, the concept of the teenager was sprung from noble origins. Following the abolition of child labour at the turn of the century, there now existed an interim period between doll-clutching childhood and the net-contributing adult.
This in-between phase wanted an identity to separate itself from boring grownups. The War years brought political fervour and jazz-age Gatsby-ism ("The old had sent us to die and we hated them" remarks one of the four voiceovers here). Soon, Hollywood and eccentricity all swirled into the teenager's focus, even in a Germany being seduced by Hitler into "with-us-or-against-us" dogmatism. Free of academic posturing, Teenage's beauty lies in its minimalism. Wolf's aim is to massage-in the concepts set out in Jon Savage's book of the same name through archive shots and diary-extract voiceovers that speak from the souls of four such pioneers: the Hitler Youther, the London social darling, the German rebel and the African American Boy Scout.
This is aligned to a score by Bradford Cox that is primal enough to soundtrack fascist rallies before adding a dreamy blush to vintage clips of jitterbug hops.
Now showing (IFI and selected cinemas)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
TOM CLANCY didn't live to see the latest film incarnation of his hugely successful Jack Ryan character. Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck have all played Ryan in films which were based on specific Clancy novels. Shadow Recruit, however, is a story born of the character, there is no novel. Chris Pine plays the eponymous hero this time, in what is perhaps a franchise reboot.
Ryan is studying at the London School of Economics when 9/11 inspires him to join the Marines. An injury takes him out of service but introduces him to doctor and love interest Cathy (Keira Knightley) and during his recuperation he is recruited by the CIA in the still handsome form of Kevin Costner. After finishing his PhD, Ryan is sent undercover as a Wall Street analyst, charged with uncovering any suspicious financial transactions.
Sporting a bad hairdye job, Kenneth Branagh plays Viktor Cherevin, the super-rich baddie that Ryan uncovers. A trip to Moscow proves a game-changer, and Ryan the sleeper agent goes operative.
Branagh is also the director and having cut his action teeth on Thor he knows all the action-movie tricks: extreme close-ups, revolving-camera shots, hand-held action scenes and so on.
There's a strange absence of timeline in the film, and no amount of algorithms and jargon can hide the fact that this is a super simple plot. Pine is fine in an undemanding role and Knightley, whose performances are usually so mannered they verge on gurning, tones it down to almost normal levels. It's grand but not special; this adds nothing remarkable to its canon.